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ADHD and Risky Behavior in Adults

By Camille Noe Pagán
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD

If someone you care about has ADHD, you might have noticed her acting in certain ways that upset you, other people, or even herself. Her actions could be linked to ADHD. Not every adult with ADHD has risky behavior, but many do.

Why? Research shows that people with ADHD often have lower levels of certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Dopamine is one of those.

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“Risky behaviors can increase dopamine levels, which may be part of the reason some individuals with ADHD are drawn to them,” says Stephanie Sarkis, PhD, a mental health counselor and author of Adult ADD: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed. Taking risks can give them a little rush of that dopamine that they are missing.

People with ADHD may also have certain genetic traits that make them prone to risky or impulsive actions.

For some people with ADHD, problems may be as minor as showing up late to meetings. Others may do things that are dangerous, like driving at unsafe speeds or abusing alcohol. Understanding the connection between ADHD and risky behavior can help you and your loved one with ADHD.

Common ADHD-Related Problems

Some of the difficult or risky behaviors related to ADHD include:

  • Trouble getting motivated or finishing tasks (either at work or at home)
  • Being late or not following through on commitments, appointments, or responsibilities
  • Impulsive spending or overspending
  • Starting fights or arguing
  • Trouble maintaining friendships and romantic relationships
  • Speeding and dangerous driving
  • Substance abuse (ADHD makes you up to six times more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.)
  • Risky sexual behaviors, such as having unprotected sex

Other things can also play a role in whether someone with ADHD acts in risky or dangerous ways. Family environment, the friends she spends time with, and health problems like depression or a head injury can make a difference.

How to Help

If someone you know has ADHD and is acting in ways that concern you, there are things you can do to help.

Don’t place blame. “The most important thing to remember is that ADHD is a biological, neurological, and genetic disorder. It’s real, and it can have real consequences for the people who have it,” Sarkis says.

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